The 1962 Empire Games in Perth, Western Australia; an Englishman winning the marathon; hillbillies ‘Downunder; and a meal that left Barry retching.
My dad was not an outwardly demonstrative man. But one smile from him was akin to the morning sun melting away tensions and inhibitions to communicate and it would not be unusual to see him talking to complete strangers as though they were of his own family. However, he was very quick to spot those whose intentions were anything but honourable and in doing so would immediately shield both him and us from them whilst always explaining his reasons as to why. What’s more, He was rarely wrong.
In hindsight I can only but guess that it was one of those occasions outlined above that he first met Lulu, Karl, their three children and an Alsatian dog. That is: complete strangers brought together by the warmth of my dad’s smile. But no guesswork is needed on my part to tell you why we drifted apart.
The year was 1962 and the Empire Games were in full swing in Perth, Western Australia. In fact, prior to moving to another suburb north of Perth the ‘Games Aquatic Centre was being built on a wide expanse of land right across the road from our old house.
Did I say the ‘Games were in full swing? In fact they were fast drawing to a close with only the marathon to be run before the closing ceremony on the 1st December. And why is the memory of that penultimate day so clear? Well, I’ll tell you.
I’d been on the night shift and was making my way home by bus to the shopping centre terminus near our new home in Nollamara (an Aboriginal word meaning Kangaroo Paw). It wasn’t until late 1963 that the bus route extended beyond the shopping centre and past the intersection of Lewes Road where we lived. As a result, and until we bought our first car late in 1963, we were required to walk approximately one mile to or from the shopping centre.
It was late November and summer ‘Downunder had made an early appearance. The weather was very hot resulting in most folk leaving doors and windows open to gain what little respite they could from airless homes because back then air conditioners were few and far between.
Reaching the shopping centre I began the walk home. It was approximately 8.30am and through those open doors and windows I could hear the television commentary of the marathon which had started at around 6am. Also, I could hear exiles from the ‘Old Dart’ excitedly willing another Englishman onto victory. I found myself running home to catch the last stages of the race and getting there just in time to see Brian Kilby enter the ‘Stadium to run the last lap and secure first place.
Anyway, back to my story.
Lulu was born in Greece and had made her way to Australia after WWII to work in the West Australian eastern goldfields. Suffice it to say she was very fond of men. But she would repeatedly tell us that she was a one time owner of a popular Kalgoorlie hotel. We never questioned her story. Nor did we think it important to ask for further detail. The only other thing she shared with us was that as a result of some poor financial decisions she was required to quickly settle her debts and get out of town fast. Oh, and the fact that one day she hoped to return to Kalgoorlie.
With whatever money she could scrape together, plus some personal ways of negotiating deals, she bought a strawberry farm just up the track from our Nollamara home. And when I say ‘just up the track’ that’s not far from the truth. Back then the homesteads between us and the next country town were virtually surrounded by the Australian bush with the only lifelines to the big smoke being narrow bitumen roads.
Karl was born in Germany and like Lulu had made his way ‘Downunder to start a new life. He had been too young to fight in the war and had lost his family in the madness of it all. Australia was the only place he wanted to be. He was a top of the range auto mechanic. But getting regular work in his chosen profession had been a problem. Well, you don’t need me to tell why. So he would do whatever was going, no matter how demeaning, for he had determined never to return to Germany.
We do not know how Lulu and Karl met. But truth is stranger than fiction. They did indeed get together and although they were not married there were children between them – two boys and a girl.
Then there was the Alsatian dog that responded only to Karl’s commands. Sure, it would let you pat and make a fuss of it. But I always contended that had Karl given the command to attack it would have ripped off your hand.
Along with a menagerie of other animals they all lived together on a strawberry farm called The Moondook Kiosk.
From the first time they met my dad to the day they invited us out to their place we would only see them on the streets of Perth or in our local shopping centre. The conversations were always congenial and we were always keen to know if Karl had managed to get work as an auto mechanic. Approximately eight months had gone by when Lulu and Karl invited us to spend an afternoon with them at their house. But what we didn’t know when accepting the invite was that Lulu had an agenda to fund her return to Kalgoorlie.
We arrived around midday and found ourselves reeling from culture shock. Whilst there was always the suspicion that Lulu and her family were a bit ‘rough and ready’ nothing we had encountered in the short time knowing them could have prepared us for that day. Folks, they were living hillbilly style: the kids were running around half dressed and barefooted; chickens wandered everywhere in and around the house; a goat was tethered near the back porch; cats were all over the place; and an aggressive rooster flew at us because we had stepped too close to its territory.
Oh, and did I say house? At the very least it was a roof over their heads. Doors were virtually non existent, the kids slept in one room, mum and dad in another, whilst another room served as a common living/dinning/kitchen area. Dishes were unwashed and piled high in the sink and the state of the cooker simply sent shivers all over. And would you believe it, our arrival coincided with Lulu preparing a lunch of ham and eggs. But first of all Lulu wanted to talk business with mum and dad whilst Karl was sent off to prepare the ham.
Sadly to say, the strawberry farm had seen better days. Commercially it had become a millstone around their necks and they were keen to rid themselves of it. That’s where they thought my mum and dad could help.
Whilst Karl was out preparing the ham, Lulu promoted the idea that mum and dad could help fund her return to Kalgoorlie by excising the purchase of ten acres of land from her. She said that £10 an acre should do the trick and in return she would give a receipt testifying the money had exchanged hands. No deed would be needed. She said a receipt and a handshake should satisfy.
Now, what was that part about Lulu having to leave Kalgoorlie in a hurry?
It goes without saying that mum and dad were less than impressed with Lulu’s ‘business proposition’. But they did suggest a more formal and official approach to acquiring the ten acres. Lulu was not interested saying something along the lines ‘the less they know, the better it is’.
As you can guess, no excising of land took place. But we were still invited to stay for lunch.
Lulu prepared the ham and eggs. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little here. The eggs never had chance to cook ending up on our plates all runny and the ham was anything but pink in colour. Then again, the state of that frying pan would just about change the colour of any food cooked in it. It wasn’t a pleasant repast at all and what was left on our plates was quickly snaffled by the children.
But Lulu hadn’t finished with trying to get mum and dad to buy some of the land. She suggested we all sit on the porch to relax a while and to let our meal slowly digest. Slowly digest! That’s not what my queasy stomach wanted to do.
So there we were, so-called relaxing on the porch whilst the kids were still running around half dressed and barefooted, the chickens were still wandering everywhere in and around the house, the many cats wanting to jump up and sit on our laps, and that blasted rooster still flying at us because we were too close to its territory. But Wait, something was missing.
Remember me mentioning a goat being tethered near the back porch? Remember that? Well, the goat was gone. The peg was still in the ground. The rope that had tethered the goat was still attached to the peg. But the goat was gone.
My enquiry as to whether the goat had been allowed off the peg to roam around was met with muffled laughter. Yes, it had been let off the peg – but not to roam around. In fact its roaming days were well and truly over.
Yes folks, we had eaten goat and eggs. My stomach began retching and it was all I could do not to disgrace myself in front of everyone.
That was the last we ever saw of them.
See you later…
July 12, 2004